June 17, 2016
My neighbor has a Donald Trump campaign sign on his front lawn.
He put it up last week. The first time I saw it, I was in the car with my brother and when we came up over the hill that leads into my neighborhood, the only response I could vocalize is “what the fuck is that?” “I know,” he responded simply, hands tightening grip on the steering wheel. We talk about wanting to kick it down. We talk about his use of the n-word and s***k. We talk about how the man hasn’t acknowledged my presence in over a year, since he saw me walking down the street hand-in-hand with my girlfriend at the time. We were angry.
That anger dissolves into something else entirely on Sunday. 49. When the lives of 49 queer folks of color were obliterated with a legally-obtained assault rifle. Another 53 injured. 6 in critical condition. As the names come in, I read their stories.
Stanley Almodovar III (23), Amanda Alvear (25), Oscar Aracena (26), Rodolfo Ayala (33), Antonio Davon Brown (29), Darryl R. Burt II (29), Jonathan Camuy (24), Angel Luis Candelario-Padro (28), Omar Capo (20), Simon Carrillo (31), Luis Daniel Conde (39), Cory James Connell (21), Tevin Eugene Crosby (25), Anthony Luis Laureano Disla (25), Deoka Deirdra Drayton (32), Leroy Valentin Fernandez (25), Mercedez Marisol Flores (26), Peter O. Gonzales-Cruz (22), Juan Ramon Guerrero (22), Paul Terrell Henry (41), Frankie Hernandez (27), Miguel Angel Honorato (30), Jimmy De Jesús (50), Javier Jorge-Reyes (40), Jason Benjamin Josaphat (19), Eddie Jamoldroy Justice (30), Christopher Leinonen (32), Alejandro Barrios Martinez (21), Juan Chavez Martinez (25), Brenda Lee Marquez McCool (49), Gilberto Ramon Silva Menendez (25), Kimberly Morris (37), Akyra Murray (18), Geraldo Ortiz-Jiminez (25), Joel Rayon Paniagua (31), Jean Carlos Mendez Perez (35), Enrique L. Rios (25), Eric Ivan Ortiz Rivera (36), Jean Carlos Nieves Rodriguez (27), Xavier Emmanuel Serrano (35), Christopher Sanfeliz (24), Yilmary Rodriguez Solivan (24), Edward Sotomayor Jr. (34), Shane Evan Tomlinson (33), Martin Benitez Torres (33), Juan Rivera Valazquez (37), Luis Vielma (22), Luis Daniel Wilson-Leon (37), Jerald Arthur Wright (31).
I think about how 7 of them are my age or younger. I think about how many people will remember the name of the shooter far more quickly than that of any of the victims. I think about the shooter’s image plastered across the media, and how they are responding to him instead of the bodies shot. I think about how half the time, they don’t mention it was a gay club or that it was Latinx night. Because queer people of color are always already dead. And we come to understand the shooter as this Islamic “other” who allows us to deny the queerphobia and racism inherent in American society. This is the definition of homonationalism.
I think about my parents. I watch Christopher Leinonen’s mother break down on camera about her then-missing son – who wound up dying alongside the partner he planned to spend the rest of his life with, Juan Ramon Guerrero. I think of my own mother, who would stay up until 2 am every night I would go to Stonewall, one of the gay bars in Allentown. How I would always tell her to get some sleep, that it was safe there. How I wouldn’t tell her about that time some of my friends got beat up in the parking lot. How I wouldn’t tell her about the sleazy straight cis men who would invade the space, operating on the periphery, pulling mine and other folks’ hips flush against theirs.
I think about the time when two white guys followed my then-girlfriend and I down the streets of Philadelphia’s “gayborhood” harassing us because we were holding hands. How it took everything to not un-entangle our fingers. How they later found us again sitting outside of a restaurant. How my voice box stayed in stunned silence as they continued to hassle us until my girlfriend told them off. Or the time at NYC Pride where I gave a homophobic guy the finger for touching my best friend and he said that he would shove his finger right up in me. Or the times group of drunk and sober men have yelled out “are you a boy or a girl at me,” among other things. There are too many times.
I think about how much privilege that I – as a white, able-bodied queer person – have to move through space. How I can still look at the police station next door to Stonewall as more of a source of safety than another threat. How unlike Kayden Clarke, the transman with Asperger Syndrome who was shot by the police in Arizona back in February, people readily understand my means of communication. How I regularly face harassment and violence as a non-binary trans person, but it’s nowhere near the risk that transfeminine folks in my community face.
And at the same time, I’m still scared.
I’m scared to be at the queer spaces that once felt like sanctuary. NYC Pride is next weekend and, while I usually admonish the event for being capitalist, I realize that I won’t be attending this year solely because I’m terrified. I’m scared because what does it mean for the existence of queer people when our community spaces are turned into death grounds.
I am scared by the amount of Islamophobia that has emerged from this tragedy. I am not denying that someone who followed radical Islam played a role in the massacre. At the same time, however, people have no problem distinguishing that there are different practices of Christianity. This allows us to identify groups like the Westboro Baptist Church as religious extremists that are not the “same” as the welcoming church down the street. Yet, people are unable to not view Islam as a singular entity. Islam becomes synonymous with terrorism, whereas in actuality, terrorism is perpetrated by anyone who instills fear in the bones of a community. Islam becomes synonymous with queerphobia as though there are not a host of different Islamic beliefs and practices. That Islam, like all religions, is not a monologue. If we’re looking at liturgical custom, I can guarantee you after many years of Catholic education that I can find as many anti-gay and anti-trans statements in the Christian Bible as I can in the Quran. And let us not for a moment forget that the Muslim queer community exists and is now dually mourning the loss of queer lives and the villainization of their religious beliefs.
I am scared to look the way I do. Now more than ever, I cringe when I am addressed as “sir” and try to lower my voice in an attempt to pass. I force myself into my regular gender presentation, but cannot helped but notice how much more I find myself surveying my surroundings.
I’m scared to put an anti-Donald Trump sign on my lawn.
Hell, I’m even scared of social media. After getting into a dispute about Islam with a neo-Nazi on Twitter the other night, I quickly back-tracked, blocked the user, deleted the entire conversation, and set my account to private. I know that’s probably paranoid. At the same time, I’m scared of the number of likes and retweets Trump’s statements on the Pulse shooting have gotten. I know that’s not being paranoid.
I am scared. I am tired. I am emotionally drained. All of us are. The only solace the past few days has been watching many queer communities band together – has been receiving and sending messages to queer friends and family in love and mourning. In the midst of this tragedy, “prayers” are not consoling. They cannot serve as a balm in a society that has been actively killing queers and people of color both explicitly and implicitly since its colonial inception (with justification for this marginalization, might I add, often rooted in Christianity). Straight and cis people (especially white straight and cis people) – the best thing you can do right now is not give us prayers but instead to actively work for change. Use your privilege to speak out against white supremacy, homophobia, and cis/heterosexism. Research how what happened in Orlando wasn’t a fluke or an anomaly, but rather a highly visible manifestation of the systemic and inter-personal violence experienced by marginalized communities everyday.
This afternoon, my eighty-year-old grandfather picked me up for lunch. As we drove off to the restaurant, the first thing he said, face solemn, was, “What happened in Orlando. Terrible.” This conversation sounds different than our usual discussions of the news. I know that my mother told him months ago that I was gay, but today I find myself hoping that with his fading memory, he’ll have forgotten. I don’t want him to worry.
On Sunday, my 17-year-old brother walked into my room where I was curled up in bed. He asked how I was doing. He is a white, straight, cisgender boy. Protective by nature, he always worries about my safety. He said if what was happening in Orlando was hard for him to deal with, he couldn’t imagine what I was going through. And then he invited me to play basketball with him. As we bounced basketballs on the pavement in our front yard, we look at the Donald Trump sign on our neighbor’s lawn. There aren’t enough words.